The thrill of dawn

Opus 111 Beethoven. I used to rehearse just before dawn when the trees were fizzing with anticipation and then the music and the sunrise would seem to coalesce and break open my heart. Same spot every time, bar 96 onwards. As the sun peeped over the hill the birds would start to join in to become part of the joyous chorale.  


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Who Heard Beethoven?

Denmark Opus 109

“I just thought she was a strange tourist……but the way she looked at me…. It was nice. She asked if she could play that old piano. Nobody ever plays it.

She touched the lid and opened it up. took some music out of a beat up plastic bag.

I will never forget it. The room dissolved into the sunlight and then that old piano was so beautiful. It was like rivers and mountains, trees and gardens of flowers. The clouds and the skies came down into the room. It felt like there was nobody there at all, and no longer any walls between inside and outside. just music everywhere. I don’t know how long she was playing and I don’t remember sitting down, but it seemed like the whole world slowly settled and my shop became a different place. When she stopped I could feel my body light and easy in the chair. My feet stopped aching and I could stand up straight. I gave her a cup of tea. You can’t take money after that.”

Sweden Opus 110

“We took Grandmama to the family grave yesterday. We really thought she wasn’t going to be able to walk from the car to the door , but we got inside and then this woman asked us if we would like to stay for some piano music. When she said Beethoven, Grandmama was really shaking. She is always talking about how her father played all of the piano sonatas. But the last sonatas were the finest and not many people play those. She is so sad without Grandpapa. She keeps talking about wanting to go home to him. 

We both knew she would love to hear Beethoven again. ….but you know how some people aren’t all that good at the piano and we were a bit dreading it if this woman was going to ruin it.

From the minute she sat down quietly, before she started we just knew there was something special going to happen. The first chords made like a deep breath and we could feel how Grandmama just was filling up with every note. She had her eyes closed and her breathing was easy. We were worried that the hard wooden seats would make her tired or uncomfortable but it was as though she started to straighten up and grow somehow…. Nadia took her hands. They were no longer cold or trembling, just warm and soft and every now and then she would lift a hand to her eyes to rub away her tears. Her eyes were even sparkling and in the crazy fast bit she was almost laughing. It seemed as though there was a long slow part which upset her. She bowed her head and rested it in her hands on the pew in front. 

What was more incredible was that near the end the music just went mad and she got so excited that she just jumped up and clapped and was nearly shouting. Her cheeks were really rosey and we had never seen her so energetic.
Note: Beethoven’s directions in the final fugue are ” poi a poi di nuovo vivente” (little by little regaining life)

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A Mid-winter Writing Retreat ( and we had snow!)

Beethoven by Bike…. Where has our adventurous duo been holed up?
It is one thing to ride out with Beethoven into the sunset for a year and play pianos from Denmark to Greece, but a totally other thing to write a book that does justice to such a unique mix of experiences

….the inner and outer themes ……the transformative power of music…. creative urges and artistic expression….the roller coaster of cycling 3500 miles across summer and through winter, out into spring… does anyone roll up such a multitude of ingredients into a neat package that turns out a book?
For the last year I have been tussling with the early stages of writing and I confess to have come to a stand still several times.

Just like the journey really, but in very slow motion and from the relative comfort (guilty discomfort) of my desk.
In the isolation of my office it has been too easy to become dulled and for my enthusiasm to wane.

It is hard work to write even when it is the thing you live for, let alone when it is not your first skill…..I would far rather sit at the piano or paint, or go for a bike ride, frankly!

This weekend, in the hope of refreshment, I took the opportunity to join Gilly Smith and a group of writers in her wonderful mid-winter writing retreat. 
The feed back from tutors and group alike has been overwhelming. 

“You must write this book” along with a flood of fresh ideas for moving forward.

It is this and the uplifting company of wonderful people that inspires me to carry on.
I have been able to touch back into the magnificence of Beethoven’s music and the magic of carrying it with me, heart and soul.

So here are some questions that could help me to move forward.
Is there anybody out there who would like to do some PR for me?
This for talks/presentations to promote the essence of the book….it would need to be someone who knows my story and is inspired by it.
…..who would know where to look for some financial support?
….who can write fantastic testimonials about my story, my artwork and my presentations?
……who can feed me with ideas about publicity/social media/thinking out of the box?

I am reliably told that a book does not grow overnight…..Patrick Leigh-Fermor did not write his “Time of Gifts ” until decades after his epic walk, for instance. 
This is reassuring. I have only been ‘at it’ for 3 years! 

A huge thank you to Gilly and Jed for their beautiful space, fabulous food and the rich writerly environment that flows from them and in which we have been so generously bathed. 

Also to everyone on the weekend for the easy exchange of friendship and heartful warmth between us as we grappled with our diverse projects.

Keep going with all the precious insights and resolve! 

This quaint little writer’s angel is for all of us, but especially for you, Katie. Your song is exquisite. xx 




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Spontaneous Hip Re-placement

……. Do not try this at home

I have just woken up from a deep sleep ( jet lagged slightly ) with a vivid memory from my early days as a teacher of the technique. In fact I am not sure, even, if I had started ‘practicing’.

With my gap year over ( on completing my AT training I went off on a bicycle for a year to practice on myself and let go into the unknown ) I returned to live for a period in my shepherd’s hut.

This was in close proximity to dear family friends.
The following spring, Sean had had a very traumatic experience with his new hip.. he had fallen on his second post-operative day and a few days later when he was back at home, the tiny, shiny new femoral head popped spontaneously out of its little acetabular socket, not just once.
On this particular occasion, he had done nothing more than walk carefully across the grass. ….perhaps his foot had caught and caused a rotation at the hip. We don’t know.

In response to Mary’s anxious phone call I raced over from my hut to see him rigid with pain on the sofa, barely able to draw breath and unable to move.
I found myself kneeling beside him with his foot cradled at the floor in one hand and the other supporting the outer side and just behind his knee.
My intention was to do no more than attempt to enable him to give me a little of the weight of his leg and facilitate a release somewhere, anywhere, in order to be able to breathe a little more freely, in the hope that this might alleviate the pain. I remember asking him a few questions as to where the pain was most severe.
As well as thinking of his own length and width, especially along his thigh and within his pelvis, I was directing my own back and neck as it was so distressing to see him in such pain and I was sure I did not know what to do for the best bar call an ambulance.
I may have suggested he consider width behind his lower back.

There was a sudden, palpable jolt as his hip thudded back into the socket and we both nearly jumped out of our skins. “You should have seen your face” was his comment.

I do not know exactly what happened, but I do know that over the years of friendship, and the sharing of several life-changing events, mutual respect and trust have been forged. I am honoured by that trust.
I could guess that perhaps for a second, the awful muscle spasm had a moment of reprieve and that the body was clever enough to spot the opportunity and slip the hip back in where it needed to be. I was absolutely not planning on any kind of heroic manipulation…. that is not my department. ….the right thing simply did itself, all by itself.

My thoughts are that moments of intentional release combined with a willingness to be present, even in what can sometimes be a most uncomfortable unknown, can bring about the very unexpected .

Whatever else, it makes a great story for a novice!
( names have been changed )


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Holding on and letting go!

My contribution to Alexander Technique Awarness week.
Holding on…..or creating space.

I thought it could be interesting to combine some of my previous physiotherapy approach, my own personal experience and Alexander principles on the subject of micturition.

Sometimes I would wet my pants when I was a little girl…under our summer dresses, we wore big blue-checked gingham bloomers with elasticated ends which pinched my little thighs, so of course, for the rest of the day it was a soggy, chafing, secret shame.

But everything … learning to read, art and arithmetic, spelling and knitting were all so exciting and interesting that I could not tear myself away from the classroom in case I should miss a single moment. So began the habit of holding on TOO LONG!
I remember that I was also prone to cystitis. A burning, horrible deterrent to going for a wee.
The complexities of the bladder and associated post natal difficulties later became a part of my studies as I stepped into a wonderful job as obstetric physio in the brand new maternity unit in Torbay.
“Urgency”, the (so aptly called) sudden need to urinate, and reduced capacity of the bladder was just one of many possible post natal complications which I could be called upon to treat. It was also a not uncommon problem for more mature women in the gynaecolocy ward.

Years went by and my habit of being ‘doubled up’ for a wee continued in a pretty unconscious way….. occasional minor mishaps, along the way.
But one day (as I was bent over for all I was worth at the bike shed) on my return home from Alexander school, I began to wonder about the sense ….. well the lack of it….. in doubling up, crossing my legs and holding on for dear life…..

All that pulling down would surely be significantly reducing the space for my poor distended bladder. What would happen if I thought of freeing my neck and lengthening and widening.
From then on I made a decision to become more aware of my habits around the whole subject. It is a work in progress.
There are some useful physiological details to add into the equation, which are helpful when retraining a small bladder ( one that has become habituated to holding smaller and smaller volumes) to gradually regain capacity.
The muscle fibers that cause the bladder wall to contract and expel urine, depend on reciprocal relaxation of the bladder neck and pelvic floor sphincter muscles .
Conversely, if the sphincter muscles contract, by conscious control, the bladder wall muscles will reciprocally relax, thus allowing the bladder to enlarge a little.
In other words, a well timed, conscious contraction of the pelvic floor muscles can help to retrain the bladder to hold a greater volume.
( I am experimenting with applying my Alexander directions in this moment of specific activity)
Other useful factors….. the importance of drinking enough water. That coffee and tea can irritate the bladder wall and make it more reactive.

This is not the same as holding on for dear life just because it is too much trouble to go to the loo. In fact holding for too long can cause the very opposite problem…. difficulty in initiating the flow, or in dire cases, retention!

So, with this in mind, when I get a non urgent signal that it is time to go to the loo, what is a useful, conscious response?
I might be in the middle of practising an exhilarating passage of Beethoven.
Or about to go shopping.
In a gripping conversation.
Can I even listen to the signals of mild or growing discomfort?
Can I stop and “let go” of my pressing need to carry on/get going/mind my manners in favour of a pressing need to go to the loo?
It can’t be that hard can it?
This is where force of habit truly is a force, and where inhibition of the gentlest kind is such a grace.
Just stop. Make space. There is time. Time, when the urge is caught several steps BEFORE there is no return….BEFORE doubling up becomes the only option….
Time to listen and think of directing the neck to be free, the back to lengthen and widen.
So much more space in the pelvis for the bladder to function naturally….and for the natural message “hey you, how about me?” to get through. What about courtesy to my bladder? …. courtesy to the whole of this marvelous instrument, my human psychophysical being?
And then make the move to the loo with good humour and time to get my trousers undone without the cross dash and muttering “left it too long AGAIN didn’t you”

So for me the thing is not just a hopeful application of “head neck back etc” in the urgent moment, but a choice to listen and then respond a good deal sooner.
It means holding on to the things I love with a lighter touch in the faith that I can let go for long enough to visit the bathroom and that they will still be there after I have pulled up my trousers!

Old habits?….. ha!
Will you excuse me


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Ernest is a great Photographer

and he has kindly emailed the best shots across.
Playing for Penny and the residents of St. Joseph’s.



and a lovely one of the three of us at the art gallery.


Ernest is also quite something in the kitchen department and we dined with him twice. Susan’s fridge was then bulging with leftovers which fed us during the rest of the week!
I could not have been more welcomed.

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Visit to the Canadian Seven.

This was a fabulous visit to a gallery just north of Toronto.
Inspiring landscapes by men who were passionate about Canada and who portrayed the magnificence of nature with visionary innovation. …. and we were permitted to take photos!




Wonderful bold colours and forms.

and a lovely group too!


From Left to Right, Ernest, Susan, John and myself.

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